Businesses plead for states to enforce mask mandates

Enforcement of statewide mask mandates is increasingly falling on retail and restaurant workers as local police departments take a hands-off approach to compliance.

A growing number of states and cities have imposed mask orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 as a second surge of coronavirus cases risks another round of lockdowns. But a wave of clashes between employees and customers has left business groups pleading with state officials to step in and ease the burden on vulnerable workers.

“Public health officials and local governments are in the best position to enforce these requirements,” said Jason Straczewski, vice president for government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.

“It is unfair and, we feel, not appropriate to ask retail workers, grocery store workers, and restaurant workers to have to enforce these requirements,” he continued, adding that retailers are happy to provide “plenty of signage” and “friendly reminders” about masks.

Several dozen studies have shown that masks are highly effective at curbing the spread of the coronavirus and only pose health risks to small children and those with physical disabilities. Economists say the widespread adoption of mask-wearing could help save the U.S. from a deeper economic dive caused by another round of lockdowns while allowing the economy to reopen in a safer fashion.

“If we all wore a mask, it would substantially mute the transmission of this disease and we would grow faster. We would have a lower unemployment rate. We’d grow faster. And would be far less likely to slow some of our reopenings,” said Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, in a Friday interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.

“While monetary and fiscal policy have a key role to play, the primary economic policy from here is broad mask-wearing and good execution of these health care protocols. If we do that well, we’ll grow faster,” Kaplan also said.

Since April, 21 states and the District of Columbia have imposed statewide mask mandates that order most citizens to wear some type of face covering inside businesses and when social distancing is impossible.

Despite the overwhelming effectiveness, the act of wearing one has become increasingly politically polarized.

While some Republican governors have imposed mask mandates, other GOP governors and politicians have scorned such orders as infringements on personal liberty.

Viral videos of angry, maskless customers screaming at fellow patrons, berating store employees, and throwing merchandise have circulated throughout the pandemic. Reports of violence against employees left to enforce mask orders have also raised alarm among advocates for retailers, restaurants and their workers.

“To protect America’s food supply, we must ensure our grocery stores are safe – and a critical piece of this is ensuring that customers shop smarter,” said Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.

“Not only should every grocery and retail company mandate the wearing of masks and social distancing, our state and local governments must establish these uniform safety standards.”

Several industry groups have also been pushing governors to impose statewide mask orders to lift the enforcement burden off of employees. The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) called in a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA) for statewide mask orders nationwide, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) launched an ad campaign urging Americans to mask up to protect their fellow citizens. 

Business advocates argue that employees face fewer confrontations when governors and state officials take the lead on education and enforcement. 

“There’s such a wide swath of information out there with the public right now and then so many assumptions and presumptions,” said Larry Lynch, a senior vice president at the National Restaurant Association.

“If the government could come up with a consistent response, I think they could simply help people understand.”

Even so, resistance from local law enforcement agencies and gaps in enforcement have undermined some statewide masks orders.

Under North Carolina’s mask order, residents who refuse to wear masks where they are mandated will only face being held liable if their resistance rises to trespassing or other preexisting crimes. While businesses can be held liable for failing to abide by the order, at least three North Carolina county sheriffs have refused to enforce it.

In California, the Sacramento County and Orange County sheriffs have also refused to enforce the state’s mask order, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to threaten their funding. 

After Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) imposed a mask order on 12 Buckeye State counties, the sheriff of Butler Country rebuked the command, insisting his department would not become “the mask police.” The Columbus and Cincinnati police departments also objected to issuing citations under the mask order.

“We need leadership from state and local officials and federal officials,” Straczewski said.

“There needs to be clear expectations and personal responsibility on everyone to comply with these orders. This is about protecting fellow members of our community.”

Tags face masks Gavin Newsom Maria Bartiromo

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